A recent article from the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, titled “Hotel Guests’ Preferences for Green Guestroom Attributes,” caught my eye just a couple days ago. Written by Michelle Millar and Seyhmus Baloglu of the University of San Francisco and the University of Las Vegas, respectively (both institutions have well established programs in hospitality), the study analyzed a set of hotel room amenities/features and attempted to find out which ones guests thought were the most important. I was especially interested in this study—among the many studies on guestroom attributes—because I have some pretty strong opinions about the best things that hotels can do in their guestrooms to enhance sustainability.
By way of background, an abundance of studies have consistently shown that hotel guests are generally unwilling to pay a premium to stay at “green” hotels. Guests do respond well, however, to hotels that have sustainable practices. The simplest practices would include linen reuse, in-room recycling bins, low-flow fixtures, and energy-efficient lighting. On the whole, the practices I’ve just mentioned have become so standard in the hospitality industry that any hotel that does not implement them would be considered behind the curve. Because these features have become so common, any hotel that implements them might be inclined to brand itself as environmentally friendly. Given the proliferation of these practices, it’s not surprising that a majority of guests in several surveys consider themselves as environmentally conscious travelers.
Millar’s and Baloglu’s study drew from a sample of hundreds of leisure and business travelers. Both authors were expecting to find that business and leisure customers would have significantly different preferences. The findings across both segments, however, were mostly consistent. Travelers ranked the features, from most important to least important, in the following order (top seven are shown):
- Green certification
- Towel policy
- Linen policy
- Energy-efficient light bulbs
- Shampoo amenities
- Controlled lighting
- Recycling policy
The authors were somewhat surprised (as was I) that green certification came in as a solid first. They note that numerous studies have shown that consumers are skeptical toward eco-labels, and they emphasize the need for a certification system that is “straightforward, easy to understand, and truthful.” The topic of green certifications for hotels is a thorny issue—and one that I’ll talk more about in a future post. For hotel operators, this study provides clear direction for what sustainable guestroom features they should be incorporating. Though guests are not yet willing to pay more for green practices, these practices positively correlate with guest satisfaction and, from a strictly financial point of view, could lead to improved customer loyalty and increased revenues.
From a strictly environmental point of view, I don’t believe green certification is the most impactful. When certifications are objectively applied across comparable properties, then they are genuinely indicative of sustainability performance. But few people ever apply certifications as they should, and this study is abstract and does not look at properties: it looks at customers. If I could rank the top few guestroom attributes that made the greatest impact—i.e., that best curb resource and energy consumption—then my list would look a bit different. I would have at least included key-card energy control (a practice widely used in most hotels except those in the United States) and low-flow water fixtures in the list. I would be particularly interested in hearing about which guestroom attributes our readers would consider the most important!